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State pay raises are gone; so is assistance program and pension payments; Gregoire’s budget gets drastic to close $5 billion gap

Post by Joe Turner on Dec. 18, 2008 at 8:10 am with No Comments »
December 18, 2008 8:10 am

This is budget day for Gov. Chris Gregoire, who unveils her supplemental budget for 2007-09 and her new budget for 2009-11.

The news conference is at 9:30 a.m. But we reporters are among the last to find out what’s going on when it comes to budget. What generally happens is that Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are briefed ahead of time, probably last night. And word spreads to so-called “stakeholders.”

My Associated Press colleague, Curt Woodward, got this budget tidbit yesterday and the Seattle Times posted it. The governor won’t “Cover All Kids” by expanding subsidized health care coverage to kids whose families earn as much as $62,000 a year (for a family of four.)

If you get state money to take care of a group of people, for instance, General Assistance Unemployable, you usually get a heads-up from the governor’s budget office or the legislative budget committee staff that your ox is about to be gored.

Such is the case with some or all of the general assistance programs. I’m told that program is no longer. And there are about 34,000 people on general assistance today. One of those programs is sortof a state-paid waiting area for people who are medically unable to get jobs, buying time for the state to try to get them signed up for federal SSI.

Gregoire reportedly also will propose delaying employer contributions to various state pension plans, saving somewhere between $400 million and $600 million.

And those contracts, the ones that were going to give about 110,000 state workers 2 percent pay raises in each of the next two years? They’re gone, I’m told. Although I’m didn’t think the governor could abrogate the deals she had just negotiated with state labor unions.

Budget director Victor Moore told me last month that the contracts would be part of the governor’s budget proposal. Guess things got even worse. And she invoked a special clause in the collective bargaining law.

And if state workers aren’t going to get raises, you can pretty much figure that teachers, K-12 workers and some the community college workers covered by voter-approved Initiative 732, won’t be getting their raises, either. And those were supposed to be much higher, upwards of 5 percent because I-732 pegged school employee cost of living raises to the Consumer Price Index for Seattle.

Foregoing pay raises for all state employees and I-732 employee, as well as raises for home-care workers, adult family homes and child cares workers who are paid by the state, saves somewhere $714 million over the next two years. That assumes the state also foregoes increases to the health benefit packages.

The governor also is expected to let the University of Washington and Washington State University, the research universities, raise tuition by 7 percent in each of the next two years. That will give them the wherewithal to offset some of the cuts the governor is proposing for parts of their respective budgets.

(The guv cuts state general fund money, the colleges backfill with tuition money from parents and students. That’s become pretty standing in tough budget times.)

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